Hinting broadly that he must be a better football coach than a forecaster, Nevada's Chris Ault was quoted thusly in yesterday morning's...
RENO, Nev. — Hinting broadly that he must be a better football coach than a forecaster, Nevada’s Chris Ault was quoted thusly in yesterday morning’s paper here:
“There is no question about it,” said the 59-year-old Ault. “This game is all about us.”
Actually, it turned out to be a good bit about Washington State, too. About unexpected Cougars who sacked Nevada quarterback Jeff Rowe. About Alex Brink, who marshaled the Cougars to a 27-0 halftime lead. About Jason Hill and Jerome Harrison, who underscored the difference between quality Pac-10 athletes and those from the Western Athletic Conference.
After about 12 minutes, it was simply no contest here last night, as the Cougars dispatched Nevada, 55-21. WSU was very good, and it was also a little lucky, and it was way more than the Wolf Pack could handle in its 2005 opener.
Surely the competitive arena is a shared enterprise of achievement and malfunction, but we’ll give Ault the benefit of the doubt in thinking that Nevada had to execute to hope to hang around in the fourth quarter. Ault was, after all, inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002, which is probably as big a surprise to a lot of members of the hall as it is to you.
The Cougars gave an unsatisfying performance last week in beating Idaho, allowing 26 points, generating only a spotty pass rush. Leon Burtnett, the linebackers coach, talked this week about the Cougars not being supremely quick on defense and thus needing to “do things correctly” to maximize margin for error.
In dropping Rowe for five sacks in the first half, Burtnett said the Cougars bamboozled Nevada.
“We bluffed a lot of blitzes,” he said. “They were trying to pick up who they thought was coming, and we got pressure with a four-man rush.”
Without blitzing an undue amount, the Cougars got sacks from people like tackle Bryan Olson and reserve end Matt Mullennix.
Nevada had a modest 97 first-half yards, and in those two quarters spent exactly two plays in Washington State territory. Then it went back in the red when Mkristo Bruce sacked Rowe for an 8-yard loss.
Offensively, Brink ran things with a brisk tempo, finishing with 15 completions in 23 throws for 202 yards and three scores without an interception. Harrison ran 18 times for 121 yards, and he wasn’t even the leading rusher. That was freshman DeMaundray Woolridge, with 133.
Occasionally, you need Dame Fortune in Nevada, and she gave the Cougars a first-half hug. Ahead 17-0 in the second quarter, WSU was pinned against its goal line, and on third down Harrison bucked out only to the 5. Alas for the Wolf Pack, the Cougars’ false start wiped out the play, and Brink whipped a post pass for Hill for 47 yards.
As if that weren’t enough, the same thing happened later in the drive, after Chris Jordan’s third-down drop. Brink’s 8-yard throw back to Jordan got the Cougars close enough to go for it on fourth-and-two, and they marched in for their third touchdown.
Nevada’s 3-4 defense troubled the Cougars for a couple of series, but then it was mostly blackjack for Washington State.
“I don’t think Alex has seen a lot of 3-4,” said offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller. “We started picking up what they were doing. Once Alex sees that look, he’s a great pre-snap guy.”
There were players Nevada simply couldn’t keep up with, among them Hill, who can play for anybody. After the Wolf Pack scored some momentum with a touchdown early in the third quarter, Brink re-ignited the Cougars, got them to the Nevada 22, bought time with a left-side rollout and found Hill alone in the back of the end zone.
Nor could Nevada match the electric Michael Bumpus, who tantalized the Wolf Pack with an 87-yard punt return midway through the third quarter, making it 41-7 and removing any shred of doubt.
So the Cougars are 2-0, and given a schedule that Sports Illustrated rated third-mushiest in the nation, they ought to be. Still, among the triad of Idaho, Nevada and Grambling State next week at Qwest Field, this one was figured to be the most treacherous.
In the self-proclaimed “Biggest Little City in the World,” that assumption died a quiet death, buried right next to Chris Ault’s pregame prognostication.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org